Recent events in my own life have brought me to a new understanding of several passages of Scripture. Perhaps not on a cognitive level, but certainly on an experiential level.
First, reader, I share with some trepidation that my parents have chosen out of their convictions to “disfellowship” myself and my wife. Without going into detail about all that… it is this event specifically that has given me some new insights. I can’t help but share them, because I think these insights are crucial for the Christian to be able to move on from where they are… wherever they are.
The first is from Luke 14:25-26 – “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”” In this passage Jesus makes very clear that he must be held in regard above all other relationships. Our longing for him must exceed that of any other. What I have learned is that God has given both myself and my parents an opportunity to practice this truth. See, my parents love the Lord, in their own way. They are convicted that their way is the right way, and that my way (without going into what the actually theological differences are) is a way that leads to destruction. Out of their conviction, they have chosen to disfellowship their own son because of their love for God and a desire to follow him to the best of their own abilities. While I deeply, deeply, regret their decision, I must respect it. As for myself, my convictions remain true as well. I cannot change what I believe to simply match theirs any more than a mathematician could believe that 2+2 isn’t really 4 just because his mother says so. But this, in similar fashion, gives me an opportunity to show my love for the Lord above all others.
The second is from 2 Kings 19:19ff – So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!” Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.” So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.”
Following God is thrilling. In my experience, God opens doors that we didn’t even know were there, but we have to have our eyes opened and our ears attuned, listening for the call and the direction of God. Elisha, open to hear God… to understand what it was that Elijah had done when he threw is cloak over his own shoulders… wow! To respond in such a way that says, “I’ll leave everything behind and follow.” However, before Elisha could do that, he had to say goodbye to his parents. We don’t have a record of that conversation, but it should would be interesting to hear how that went for Mr. and Mrs. Elisha’s-Parents.
The point is, I suppose, that Elisha was ready to sacrifice it all for the thrill of following after the call of God. That is not to say that Elisha was hell-bound had he chosen to remain in the field, with is parents, working the farm. It is to say … well, here’s something I’ve come to believe.
Giving 10 percent of ourselves to God is a good baseline. God required the Jews, by law, to tithe. Many churches today ask their adherents to tithe. Statistically, few actually do. But when you read Scripture and you look at men and women who changed the world… they weren’t 10 percenters. They were 100 percenters. They were all in. They were men who left their nets, their farms, their families and moved in God’s direction leaving all behind. These were the people who destroyed enemies, won battles, moved rivers, walked on water, healed the sick and fed the masses.
I pray that God would give us all … more and more as we see the day of his coming approaching … an opportunity to leave behind the faith of our parents and find it unsatisfactory. I don’t mean that it won’t get us to heaven. I mean that God is still actively calling 100 percenters. I pray that you have a chance to hear that call. To know what it means with so many others to leave everything behind for the sake of moving with God in the direction of changing the world… bringing about his Kingdom on the earth. The truth is, people who live according to their parents faith may very well find their way to heaven when they die. On the other hand, what do we miss out on in the here and how, when we’re so busy listening to our parents faith, we shut out the call of God in our lives today?
I pray that we may not miss out on one more opportunity to hear God calling us to something more.
Bringing our suffering to God is the only way to survive it. I mean that in the sense that one might say that their mother’s home made cookies are the only way to eat cookies. Yes, there are other means, but the best option is to suffer in identification with Jesus Christ.
One of the major purposes behind Jesus coming was to identify with humanity… not, of course, for his sake but for ours. As our creator he knows all about humanity and what it entails. Including suffering. However, he came not so that could understand us, but that we might know that he understands us because history witnesses his coming. They saw him BE human. The world saw him suffer, cry, hurt and grieve.
Mark’s account of the Gethsemane story (Mark 14) is a great example of how Jesus suffered. How he was “greatly distressed and troubled.” How he agonized over the fear of death, over the disappointment of humanity, over his own betrayal.
I pray that today, you would take a moment to identify with Christ… or better yet, know that he identifies with you. Do you suffer pain? Do you suffer disappointment? Do you suffer betrayal? Do you suffer the loss of life or love? Jesus identifies. How precious is our savior who not only saves our souls, but speaks to our souls words of comfort through his willingness to let us see him at his very worst… in suffering.
God… may we see your suffering servant and know that he is also God.
I think pretty much everybody has the same story. Oh sure, in one story the good guy wins, in the next the bad guy, but the plot is the same. I’m always me. You’re always you. God is always God. Sin is always sin. And grace is always grace.
It began with the world.
Just as you and I were born into this world… parents hovering over us ready to grab at us and love us the moment our lungs first struck air. So God hovered over the face of the deep by his Holy Spirit, ready to embrace the creation as it sprung forth from its own watery womb.
Just as we were born infants in this world: screaming selfishly and demanding our own needs be met, careless of the thoughts or needs of parents, depriving them of sleep and money and peace. So the mankind came in the bodies of Adam and Eve who recklessly abandoned God’s commands and desires and put thir own desire for wisdom above their care for God. In them, Adam and Eve, the whole world violated the greatest command: Love God. They failed. So do we.
Just as we, in our selfishness, hurt our siblings, made fun of them, crushed their spirit, laughed at them at their own expense. So Cain despised his brother and killed him. In Cain, the world violated the second greatest command… love your brother (or neighbor). They failed. So do we.
Just as we pursue our own goals and dreams thoughtless of bringing God into the equation. Money, success, bigger, faster, stronger, more prestigious, more recognized, more … more… more. Our thirst for self exaltation brings us to build kingdoms for ourselves that are devoid of God. So mankind, through the tower of Babel, left their God in the dust and chose, rather than to trust God or exalt him, to exalt themselves in the plains of Shinar. They built their tower of Babel, and so we build ours. Neglegent of our God. Forgetting our own maker.
And finally, we realize and acknowledge our sin. . . or we don’t.
If we do, then we know that what we deserve is death. Destruction. To be wiped off the face of the planet. We may even wonder if there is anything in us that is worth saving at all. Even our very best thoughts, our very best deeds, our very best efforts fall short of perfection. We are, alas. Sinners. But calls us to believe that if we put our faith in Christ, if we confess his name and are immersed in his authority, then there is something within us worth saving. And God, by his grace, saves us by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So the world… In all this sin, because man’s heart was only evil all the time, God was ready for a “do over” and so he created one by calling for a deluge. Yes, there was one man who was worth saving. But even Noah’s family had a measure of dysfunction. But the fleshly minded people of the world had to go. The flesh had to be destroyed. And so God baptized the world.
After God baptized the world, he made the world a promise. It was a promise of grace. That he would never again destroy the world by water as he had done. One baptism. That was it. No more. He put a rainbow in the clouds to seal the promise.
As we are baptized into Christ, God makes us a promise too. He sets the rainbow of his Holy Spirit over our hearts as a seal. A promise of salvation. A promise of grace.
Have you put your flesh to death? Have you let the deluge of baptism wash away the old so that the spirit may be alive in Christ?
Sin is not unique to you. You are not worse than anyone else. You see, the story of the world… it’s your story… It’s my story. It’s our story. It’s a story of sin, death, tragic loss, grace and redemption.
Where are you in the story?
I was recently reading “Sacramental Theology” a book by Kurt Stasiak who is, I think, the prior of St. Meinrad Archabbey’s school of theology. I knew I would thoroughly enjoy his thoughts on both the Eucharist and Baptism, but what surprised me was the chapter on the other 5 Catholic sacraments.
I especially appreciated how these sacraments have “evolved” within the Catholic church in recent years. Particularly the sacrament of Confession, now called Reconciliation and the sacrament of Extreme Unction, now called the Anointing of the Sick. For some time, I had thought Extreme Unction was essentially a “Last Rite” or “Final Sacrament” offered to a sick person who was likely in hospice, or at the point of death. Now it seems they are offering the Anointing to any who seek the sacrament and are sick for any reason… whether physically or spiritually.
And they have turned to what I believe to be a biblical understanding of the anointing, which is not to prepare a person to get to heaven, but rather a recommissioning of the person for Christ in the face of their suffering, illness, or malady. It has been interesting, in light of these things to begin reading portions of another of his writings called “The Confessor’s Handbook” which is a practical guide for those who would hear confession. Written for Catholic priests, it also holds value for Protestants who hold to the priesthood of all believers and desire to return to a solid biblical and Christian use for the blessing that confession of sin truly is.
I another post, I hope to address sacraments from the standpoint of the grace received in them. What differentiates the grace received at Baptism from that of the Lord’s Supper? And what is different in the blessing received from confession and accountability (which I wonder if accountability might not be a sacrament itself? or an extension of confession?) By the way… for those who are reading my recent posts and wondering if Mr. Keele might be going Catholic. The answer is no. I am however doing two things that have me following this line of thought…
1) Attending a retreat at the Archabbey of St. Meinrad this spring lead by Kurt Stasiak, OSB.
2) Studying the idea of reclaiming the priesthood for all believers and preparing a sermon series on it.
‘Til next time!
P.S. – You can find the books to which I refer at Amazon.com
Disclaimer: I don’t know much about Catholic theology. What I address here deals more with perception than historical veracity. So keep in mind, what I am about to share is more of a personal application than broad.
I wonder if may be when we “protested” the Catholic church, we really knew what we were doing. I mean, I wasn’t there and all, and I have learned all the Catholic theologies that are “misguided” (as I understand them). I know to avoid Mary worship, or to think that the saints can intercede for us (that being dead saints) in lieu of the Christ, I know to believe in the priesthood of all believers as opposed to having a special “class” of priests, etc. etc.
I won’t address all these things here, though that would probably be a worthy endeavor. However, where it concerns the priesthood, I have wondered this: When we adopted the Biblical perspective of the “priesthood” of all believers… did we perhaps throw the baby out with the bathwater? It seems to me that since we believe in the priesthood of all believers, this has translated into the priesthood of no one.
One of my favorite moves: The Incredibles. Watch this:
Okay. There at the end. “Everyone is special Dash…” And he responds, “Which is another way of saying, ‘No one is.’
I think I get his point. I get hers, too. Yes, everyone is special in their own way. But to throw a blanket on someone’s gift in the name of conformity is to remove a large portion of their calling.
I wonder… since we have said, “Everyone is priest” that has become “another way of saying, no one is.”
In an upcoming sermon series, I hope to address this very thing. The idea that we are indeed a priesthood of believers. However, within that priesthood there are various functions, roles, and realities to be lived out under the heading “priest.” I think we have done the church a disservice by relieving it of the title and practical function of the”priesthood.”
Should the priesthood be a “special” class? Elevated above others? Venerated in unbiblical ways? Of course not on all counts. But how many of us who believe that we are a nation of priests can say when the last time we did something “priestly?” What is our priestly function? Can we serve it? Can we articulate it? Can we describe to others what our roles are in serving as Christ’s priests on the earth?
I say we study it. I say we reclaim it. I say that if we’re going to claim to be a priesthood of believers, that we start functioning like priests in this world. I wonder if we did, what our Catholic friends might think?